Dina Marie Hale
Dina Marie Hale

Many of us may recall the excitement of our first sleepover, finally achieving the age when our parents let us go to a friends’ house overnight. The sleeping bag, the popcorn and movies, the talking and giggling all hours of the night — what fun to recall those carefree days.

This year I was able to build a new family memory, having a sleepover with my grandmother. This year “Grams,” as I affectionally call her, turns 93 and she lives independently in a retirement community.

I was on the road giving talks at local parishes on the topic of embracing the cross. I had an idea: How about stay with my grandma at her place in Keizer? I called her and we quickly decided that I would pack my bags and hang out with her.

My grandmother’s eyes bulged as she watched every open space of her cozy apartment fill up with my clothes, toiletries, and snacks in the fridge. Lamenting to my mother she said, “It’s amazing how much stuff one petite person can bring.” But she grinned from ear to ear as we had a few days together.

Grandma grew up in a small community in North Dakota. With a hard-working carpenter and jack of all trades for a father and an absent mother who abandoned her two daughters and husband early in the marriage, Grams experienced the Great Depression and never really knew she was poor. “It was how everyone lived,” she said.

She didn’t know about Jesus growing up, but every once in awhile some neighbor kids would invite her and her sister to church. I think it must have planted a seed, because she welcomed the Lord into her life years later. Deeply darkened due to the lack of love from a mother, my grandmother quickly married at the age of 16 and soon after gave birth to my mother. It was the days of wars and soldiers as my grandfather served in the Army and eventually became a lieutenant colonel. The family traveled from base to base all around the world, raising children and creating family memories in places like Germany, Okinawa and Fort Vancouver, Washington.

In addition to raising four children and being an officer’s wife, Grams came to know the Lord and became a Christian. Her life eventually became one of missionary activity, leading Bible studies for youth and adults, and teaching refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos about Jesus as well as how to become an American citizen. My grandmother spent her life being a mother to many families in need, families in transition, families searching for a home and a place to belong. Even though she never experienced the love of her own mother, Grams became that love of a mother to dozens and dozens of children and families.

So, when the opportunity came to have a sleepover with my grandmother, I jumped at the chance to make some new memories by basking in the memories of her past and pondering the vision of my future. She would tell me as I prepared for my speaking engagements: “Isn’t it amazing to know that the God of the universe cares about you! It’s his show! Let God do his part. He has his finger on you and he will give you what you need.” Such wisdom coming from a woman who has lived a full life; one who has buried her youngest child, her only son, and one who has defied the diagnosis of her doctors who in the 1990s’ told her the chances of surviving breast cancer were less than optimistic.

As my grandmother looks forward to celebrating her 93rd birthday, she’s proud to tell everyone she has a great-great grandson, as we have five living generations in the family. She prays daily for all of us kids and our spouses and for all of our souls to one day be in heaven. Over the course of the next few days we would sit for hours at her kitchen table sharing memories of her childhood and then wrapping her prayers around my new adventure as a freelancer for God, responding to God’s call to follow him. Now she sees a new mission in her life to pray for me and my work with God. She counsels me and reflects how the Lord is working in my life and how pleased she is to see one of her grandchildren work so closely with our Lord. Here is a woman of deep faith and trust in Jesus and his promise of eternal life, a woman who carries the torch of tradition which radiates from her prayers, her journaling and her storytelling.

As a woman of faith, I’m in awe when I look to the women of the Bible, the lives of the saints and the lives of those closest to us who reflect God’s love in their everyday life. I am humbled by the example of my own grandmother who came from a home void of God and love of a mother; who became a woman filled with gratitude and hopefulness, believing that the cross is our only hope and that God’s love is for each one of us.

During summer as many of us plan family gatherings let us remember our grandparents, those who have planted the seed for the next generation. As we recall the gift of our grandparents and all those men and women of faith who have gone before us, may we call upon the intercession of the patron saints of grandparents: Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents to the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandparents to Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us!

Hale, an adult convert to the Catholic Church, is a Catholic speaker and emcee for Catholic parishes and faith communities. She is a former Catholic radio host. Learn more about her ministry at www.dinamarie.org.